Black and gray hat hackers are what most people consider professional despite the morally disputable nature of their operations.
Most hackers’ skill sets are often put to use against institutions, governmental organizations or the media either for monetary gains or personal interest.
What remains largely unknown is the type of operating systems these hackers prefer to use considering the nature of their work.
What Do Hackers Look For?
Anonymity is, of course, of paramount importance to a black or gray hat hacker.
As such, the type of operating system hackers choose for their exploits will primarily depend on its ability to keep the hackers’ identities well hidden.
The type of features and hacking tools that comes with the operating system is somewhat a secondary consideration, although it is just as important.
Proficient hackers who have no fear about taking unnecessary risks prefer to “hide in plain sight” using a burner laptop and the Microsoft Windows platform.
It is however not a popular choice for most given that it can only be used with Windows-based malware such as Trojan and can only work on the .NET framework and other Windows environments.
Using the burner laptops, these hackers are able to create a bootable ghost OS image that doesn’t lead back to them and copy it to an encrypted storage device, usually an SD card, before destroying the burner laptop completely.
The majority of hackers, however, seem to prefer Linux distros that are tailor-made operating systems designed by security companies to conduct digital forensics, security testing and penetration of their systems.
1. Kali Linux
Kali Linux is by far the most popular operating system preferred by hackers, and this is mostly attributed to the versatility of the platform and the features it comes with.
The Debian-derived Linux distro was developed by Devon Kearns and Mati Aharoni of Offensive Security, who rewrote the software’s predecessor, BackTrack. It is maintained and funded by Offensive Security Ltd.
Basically the upgraded version of BackTrack, Kali Linux features a bunch of upgrades including a revamped forensic mode (now in live boot), which makes it easier for Kali users to use their bootable Kali CD or USB drive to apply it for a forensic task.
It is also compatible with some selected Android devices such as via NetHunter, an Open Source Android penetration testing platform that works primarily with Nexus devices and a few Samsung devices.
Popularly known as ParrotSec, this is similarly a Debian-based Linux distro that, in addition to performing penetration tests, has been designed to do Computer Forensics and Vulnerability Assessments and Mitigations.
The GNU/LINUX operating system is said to be a hacker’s favorite.
The system is designed to support hacking, pen-testing and Cloud pen-testing, and cryptography among other tasks.
Packed with an arsenal of open source network security tools, the Network Security Toolkit is a bootable Fedora-based live CD that is compatible with most x86 platforms.
The bootable OS is primarily designed for network security administrators and is suitable for performing routine diagnostic tasks, although it can also act as a monitoring tool on servers that are hosting virtual machines.
Most of the tasks performed on NST can be accessed via a web interface known as NST WUI. NST resembles Fedora in that it comes with package management capabilities and also is self-maintaining of its repository of additional packages.
4. DEFT Linux
The Digital Evidence and Forensics Toolkit is another open source favorite for many hackers, which is built around the Digital Advanced Response Toolkit (DART) software.
Built from the ground up, the Ubuntu-based operating system comes with a load of computer forensics and incident response tools.
Contained in the License Policy is the detailed process that determines the type of software to be used by default by the install CD.
This is a live Linux environment that comes pre-configured to act like a penetration testing environment.
The Samurai Web Security Framework CD comes with free open source tools that are specifically suited for hackers looking to test, gain access or attack websites.
Limitless Options for the Technologically Savvy
Hackers are not short of options when it comes to operating systems that are tailor-made for a variety of purposes.
Although Linux seems to dominate this market for hackers, there is still some preference for Windows given that most targets run Windows operating systems and as such can only be accessed in Windows-based environments.
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